Simeon’s Moment is Our Moment, Too

I posted this recently on Facebook: My heart is so happy – I’ve been dreaming of having this picture hanging in our home for years and today it happened! He came for ALL of us! Every time I look at it, I feel incredible joy.

A good friend of mine asked me what this picture represents. The title given this picture by the artist Ron DiCianni is Simeon’s Moment, but it is a moment that we can all share in. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord and Simeon is holding the baby Jesus.

When I look upon Simeon’s face, I can see the inexpressible joy that he is feeling. God gave Simeon a very special gift which we can find in the Bible in the second chapter of Luke. Verse 26 tells us, “It had been revealed to him [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.”  What must it have been like to live a long full life and enter into old age while clinging to that hope! I can only imagine the incredible delight Simeon must have felt as he held in his arms the salvation of the world.

After living a long and faithful life, Simeon’s Moment represents the culmination of the promise that God has given to Simeon and to all of us: a way out of the desperate condition that we all share, a way out of our sins, so that we can be in fellowship with Him and have eternal life. Matthew 1:21 tells us, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Simeon holds our salvation in his arms – the light of the world come down from the heavens in the form of a helpless baby, because He knew we were all in need of a Savior. Simeon’s words (Luke 2:29-32) states it so well:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

But it’s not only the ecstasy on Simeon’s face that I can relate to, in which God’s promise for the redemption of humanity is being held in Simeon’s arms. I also love how the artist echoes Simeon’s words and created a global presence interwoven into the fabric of the picture, which shows that Jesus is not only for Simeon, but that He came for the entire world. It fills my heart with joy to see the expression of the Gospel in Simeon’s arms. Love has not come for just one people, but for all peoples, so that we all may be saved. Hallelujah!

Finally, the tear that Simeon sheds is subject to interpretation. Perhaps it is a pure expression of the emotion he is feeling. Perhaps it is a response to what he knew was coming – this man of God who surely studied the Hebrew Scriptures all of his life and understood the prophecies that were to be fulfilled glimpsed the future – that this precious baby that he held in his arms would one day carry the weight of the world’s sins upon His shoulders and the price of love would cost Him everything. Simeon’s words to the baby’s mother, Mary, in Luke 2:34-35 testify to this:

“This child [Jesus] is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

What must it feel like to hold your salvation in your arms? We may not be able to experience it the same way Simeon did, but we can surely experience it for ourselves – and if you choose to ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior and follow Him, I believe you will feel what Simeon feels. If you want to learn more about the babe in Simeon’s arms, the Book of John in the Bible is a great place to start. You may also want to consider reading about Jesus in this easy-to-read devotional that I wrote which celebrates His coming from heaven to be born in a manger on Christmas day, Taking Back Advent Moving from the Mundane to the Miraculous.

Available on Kindle and paperback on Amazon: Taking Back Advent

Love has come for all peoples. It is my hope and prayer that if you have not already experienced Simeon’s Moment for yourself, that you choose to do so someday.

My Sister’s Legacy: Helping a Friend

Even when we know those we love are finally out of pain and in the presence of our Savior, saying goodbye is hard. I wish I could pick up the phone and hear my sister’s sweet soothing voice and ready laugh once again. When I think about my sister Lynn, I think about somebody who was very gifted in the creative arts. I remember from a very young age that she was always doing beautiful drawings. I also remember that she loved to sing and that music was a very important part of her life. But the one thing that I remember the most is the love that my sister had for the Lord and what that looked like in her life. She loved people and she was always taking younger people under her wing. She had a huge generosity that was displayed in many different ways. She had a passion for both life and for worshipping the One that gives us life. She had a great deal of enthusiasm for celebrating our family’s Jewish roots which are the roots of Christianity that culminate in Yeshua, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The very last text that I received from Lynn, she was thinking of me and not about her own situation. She knows that I love horses and she sent me this picture of these two horses. She wrote that the picture really touched her and when she saw it she thought of me. Her words were “This is so beautiful. The blind horse is being helped by a friend.” I wrote back, “It is very beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing. Maybe someday I’ll write a story about the picture. Love you so much!” Her last text to me was her reply, “Love you so much too!”

I think the reason it resonated with her so much is because it was also a picture of who she is. The story I decided to write is her story. My sister would be the horse holding the feed bucket so that the other horse would be able to eat. I didn’t get to live very close to my sister, so I’m not sure of all the things that she was involved in, but I do know that whatever she devoted herself to, she did it with great enthusiasm and her legacy is the many people that she invested in with that enthusiasm. I am one of those people and I am so grateful that my sister was always an encourager to me throughout my life, even when she was journeying through her difficult illness. She was my cheerleader and she was one of my best friends. She would hold the feed bucket so that I could eat from it. She was the person who would look around and see what she could do to make someone else’s life better.

My sister modeled what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. She experienced much joy and did so many things during her lifetime. Lynn was also a nurse, an actress, a teacher, and a singer. She was so blessed to have two sons, Danny and Matt. Her wonderful husband Brian loved her deeply and accompanied her through the trials of this life, of which there were many. She faced each situation with incredible grace and she persevered, running the race laid out before her with courage and trusting the Lord every step of the way.

Lynn always called me Little Sis and I called her Big Sis and I’m very grateful that God gave me such a wonderful big sister for the time that I had with her. Somehow the increased frequency of our phone calls and texts made me feel better because we had some wonderful conversations, more than we have had in years, but also worse, because it makes her absence more profound. It wasn’t nearly long enough, but our hearts will always be connected and someday we will have eternity together. In the mean time, I will follow her beautiful example and do my best to hold the feed bucket for others.

I love you, Big Sis. I’m sure going to miss you. I have the feed bucket ready.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:13 is an amazing verse which speaks directly to sacrificial love. The same love that brought Jesus to the cross because He loves us so much, He couldn’t bear to leave us in our hopeless state of sin and its dreadful consequences. So how can we live out the words of this Scripture in our own lives? As we celebrate Memorial Day, we remember those who laid down their lives, so we could be free. Their example is one way for someone to lay down one’s life, and we are forever grateful for their sacrifice.

Pastor Chad of Living Word Global Church shared a wonderful way to celebrate Memorial Day. Rather than buy into the consumerism that sadly revolves around this day, do an act of service to honor God. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – something as simple as a phone call to someone who may be feeling lonely. As Pastor Chad put it this morning, we are all going to die someday. God didn’t make our bodies to be perfectly preserved, so that we survive unblemished into our eighties. We are called to stretch and go out of our comfort zones to help others and point them to Jesus. As we celebrate Memorial Day, it would be good to reflect on those who have sacrificed for us and on what we can do to sacrificially help others.

While we are not all called to make that ultimate sacrifice, we can lay down our lives for others in many ways – by serving them. Our lives should be how others see God – by seeking the well-being of others and loving them in His Name. When Josh was in first grade, he talked about this topic. May the pure faith of a child bless your understanding of living a life spent in loving others.

Cultivating Empathy

I have been wanting to talk about the difference between empathy and sympathy for a while now. I have been reflecting on my response to my mom in my younger years when she expressed the various aches and pains that she was experiencing. I recall feeling bad for her, but I don’t recall comprehending the depth of the pain that she was going through. As I’m getting older and experiencing my own aches and pains that is a natural part of the aging process, I have been reflecting on the difference between empathy and sympathy, how I responded to her back then, and how I would today.

One of my favorite scripture verses has always been 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

This is a perfect picture of empathy. Sympathy is recognizing that somebody is struggling and offering some words of comfort from a place that while sincere, does not actually comprehend the pain the other person is going through, at least to the same extent as someone who has experienced it themselves. This Scripture verse tells us that after we have gone through a trial, we can comfort someone else going through a similar trial with the same comfort God has given us. That is so powerful!

I personally have some regret because I wish I was more empathic to what my mom was going through as she aged: her painful back issues, her frustration at being limited physically in her golden years, and her unspoken feelings of isolation. But upon further reflection, I find that type of empathy is often the result of growing in wisdom and maturity. It is the exception rather than the rule for younger people who have not experienced the same issues or if they have, it was temporary.

I have come to understand that my mom would hold no grudge against my lack of empathy, just as I hold no grudge against my own children. They simply cannot comprehend what they have not felt for themselves. Indeed, as parents, we typically shelter our children from our infirmities because we don’t want to burden them.

Regardless of our season of life, we can all still strive to become more empathic. How do we do this? I recently heard of Brene Brown and the work she is doing in this area. I wanted to share this video because I think it speaks very directly to all of us as to how we can exercise empathy rather than sympathy, even in those situations where we have not experienced what the person is going through for ourselves. I think it’s worth watching – I hope it blesses you, like it has me, with a better understanding of how to be more compassionate to those around us.

And if you feel a little sad or guilty for not having more empathy for someone you love who is no longer with us, I have empathy for you, for I feel those things as well. I would like to share the comfort I have received from God. He loves each one of us unconditionally where we are at. I also believe those who love us (including my mom) knew we were not yet mature enough to understand. They would want us to continue to grow and learn as we move through each season of our life, gaining wisdom and increasing in compassion, without being weighed down with regrets. The best way to honor their legacy is to live the best version of ourselves each day, without letting the past hold us back from being a blessing to those around us, and by cultivating empathy for others.

Silver and Gold

I was lying in bed this morning thinking about my old days at DeVry Institute of Technology and how much I love working on electronics. I was a faculty assistant while I was going to school. I remember when they were tearing down the upstairs lab to turn it into another classroom. DeVry decided to make the oscilloscopes available for students to purchase at a somewhat affordable price. Being a faculty assistant, I got first shot. The instructor that I worked for helped me choose the best one. It became the mainstay for my home lab along with some equipment I had purchased at the monthly sidewalk sale under the bridge in Dallas, affectionately referred to as “First Saturday.”

Oscilloscope and Analog and Digital Trainer

A DeVry analog and digital trainer consisting of a function generator, an AC power supply, and a variable and fixed (5 and 12 volt) DC power supply, became part of the lab that I had set up in my bedroom, along with numerous breadboards and a container holding various diodes, transistors, resistors, IC chips, LEDs, and capacitors. I also had a soldering iron and solder sucker I kept handy. I absolutely loved designing circuits on my bread boards and building projects. I spent many wonderful hours at DeVry learning my trade. It served me well, because I went on to work at a job as a test engineer for many years and I always said “I can’t believe they pay me to come into work to have so much fun!”

That was several years ago and my life has taken many turns since then. I married a wonderful man and raised an amazing son while doing many different things including teaching English as a Second Language at the adult education center in my community, getting my master’s degree, and teaching as an adjunct professor at Dallas Christian College, while starting a small business selling portable trail obstacles for horses.

Dallas Christian College

 I had a fantastic run indulging in my favorite past time – horses. I have been blessed with several wonderful equine partners over the years. Time, distance, and the busyness of life has caused my ability to participate to fade. I still ride but instead of three or four times a week, it’s been three or four times a year.

Bareback On Pistol
Mother-Son Time On Dylan

More seasons: In the last few years, I have devoted myself to writing. I started a writers group called the Carrollton League of Writers, going on three years now, and have been blessed with so many lovely friendships through it. I am in the midst of revising a 94,000-word science fiction novel that I hope to publish by year’s end. I have also taken up my husband’s passion of bicycling and we try to ride our bikes several times a week.

Carrollton League of Writers
Bicycling on the Greenbelt in Carrollton

Most recently, I have embarked on a new career path working in Information Technology as a Quality Assurance lead. As I lay in bed this morning, I felt nostalgia for and a strong desire to reignite my passion for electronics. But then I realized that God has given me many wonderful seasons and that my electronics time was a special season for me to enjoy, but not necessarily something to return to, or at least not to devote a tremendous amount of time to it.

God will always have something for me. What a blessing to know that He will continue to bring new things into my life, not to replace my previous passions, but to bless me with new experiences – new seasons.

My thoughts then went a step further. I think I was reminiscing about DeVry because a dear friend, the instructor I mentioned earlier, went to be with Jesus last month. It’s particularly hard to think about because he was also my husband’s closest friend and his passing was so unexpected. As I thought about him, and became teary-eyed, I realized that as the years go on, this was going to continue to happen, because it is a part of life. While our souls are eternal, our bodies are perishing, and we will be saying goodbye to many friends eventually. In the last six months, we’ve said goodbye to four dear friends and I find my grief coming out in patches, as special reminders of them occur randomly in my life.

But God told me something about that, just as He did about the areas of passion I described earlier that I’m no longer able to do. While I’ll always treasure the memories I have of my friends and look forward to reuniting with them one day in heaven, God is also bringing new people into my life, not to replace them because they will always have a special place in my heart, but because He loves us so much. Just as He’s bringing me new things to do, He’s also bringing me new friends. It reminds me of a childhood song we used to sing in Girl Scouts – Make new friends, but keep the old…one is silver and the other gold.

Silver and Gold

I thank God for both the new seasons in my life to look forward to, and the previous seasons to remember and cherish. I also thank God for the new friends He has been bringing into my life. It doesn’t make saying goodbye to those I love any easier, but it does bring comfort and hope for the future.   

Seven Sayings of Jesus From the Cross (Revisited)

I wrote this article a couple of years ago, but I love its relevancy to Good Friday, so I would like to share it with you again today. I hope it blesses you as we reflect on the sacrificial love of our Savior on this day that He gave everything for us. Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

good-friday-cross

 

When someone dies, their last words are typically formed around what they hold to be most important, those things most dear to them. The person is speaking from their heart regarding their greatest concerns. Even in dying, we can see that for Jesus, His greatest concern was for us, rather than the excruciating pain that He was bearing. His desire to articulate His thoughts from the cross must have brought shock waves of pain as He struggled to lift His torn body upward against the nails, to draw enough breath to speak. Scripture records that Jesus spoke seven times. Let’s examine more closely these words He deemed so important, He uttered them from the cross in the midst of His passion.

I would like to share some insights garnered from a little book by Russel Bradley Jones called Gold from Golgotha. Jones writes “Everything at Calvary is significant, but in a very special sense the Savior’s seven words, spoken from the heart of His vicarious suffering, interpret Him to mankind.”

  1. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

In the midst of great suffering, Jesus was thinking of others, not Himself. He had come for the lost and in that prayer He was asking His Father to give them a chance, instead of the condemnation they deserved. He asked God to allow them a chance to believe. Russel Jones points out that in the Greek original, “Then Jesus said” might be changed to “Then Jesus kept saying.” The verb is imperfect, indicating continuous action in past time. Jesus’ prayer was a continuous petition on our behalf in the midst of His suffering!

  1. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:39-43

Jesus was faced with temptation just as He was in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane. One thief asked for physical release, goading Jesus by challenging Him to show His power and save them if He really was the Christ. The other thief appealed to Jesus to “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He wasn’t asking for release from his cross, but from his sin. What is amazing is the choice before Jesus – the cessation of torture or the prize of His agony: totally unworthy sinners such as the self-confessed criminal hanging next to Him – and each one of us!

  1. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. – John 19:26-27

Notice, Jesus said woman instead of mother. He assigned John as His substitute and in those words severed His earthly relationship with Mary, so she would be free to have the higher relationship of believer, with Jesus as her Savior. Heartbreaking as it must have been for both of them, it was necessary for Mary to lose her son in order to gain her salvation.

  1. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  – Matthew 27:46

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus suffered for our sin at the cross, in the God-forsaken depths of agony. Jesus’ soul cries out as He descends into hell for us – His Father is no longer there.

In this terrible time of forsakenness, we see the evidence of God’s wrath towards sin. Because Jesus was assuming the sin of the world, God’s attitude towards sin forced Him to turn His back on His beloved Son. This speaks to the incomprehensible sacrifice of both the Father and the Son – all for the sake of love.

  1. Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” – John 19:28

Jesus said “I am thirsty” after “all was now completed.” What He set out to do at the cross was complete. There was nothing more to be done. Jesus was also fulfilling prophecy and identifying Himself as the Messiah in those three simple words. In Psalm 69 His suffering is predicted, and that of His thirst when He would be offered vinegar to drink.

  1. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30

In the original Greek, “it is finished” may be translated as one word – “tetelestai” meaning “It was finished and as a result it is forever done.” There is nothing left to be done to complete the work that the Lord Jesus Christ perfected at the cross. “It” is the suffering of the full punishment of all guilt for all time. He paid the penalty due for sin with His perfect sacrifice. Sinners can now approach God through their faith in Jesus and because of His righteousness. A place in heaven is now possible because God’s divine justice has been satisfied. Nothing more is needed.

  1. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said his, he breathed his last. – Luke 23:36

The last words of Jesus show His death was voluntary, that He chose to give up His life for us. In His final words He is the Victorious Son, committing His all to His Father. This is the best example for us – a voluntary commitment of ourselves into the hands of God with all that we are and have.

We can’t understand everything that Christ said in His final hours, but there is much that we can and should study and reflect on. In Russel Jones’s words, “Golgotha is the place where the contrast between the Savior’s heart of grace and man’s heart of rebellion is most striking. Golgotha is the focal point of revelation and history and experience. There God did His best and man did his worst. There faith is justified, hope assured, and love conquers.”

Our Purpose Under Heaven

I have been reading of so many lives nearing the time when the Lord is calling them to their eternal home lately. My eyes were drawn to this plaque hanging in our kitchen today after hearing of yet another dear friend’s passing, and it brought unexpected comfort. Each one of us has a purpose under heaven and we are each given a season to live out that purpose. Our ultimate purpose is to love God and to love others. That looks different for each one of us because we are all unique, but the end result is the same: In whatever we do, let us honor God and seek to please Him, and love one another in both our words and actions. Life here on earth is both precious and short – Let’s remember to do that each and every day ❤️

To my Friends of all Faiths and Those with No Particular Faith

This letter has been many years in coming. It is a hard letter for me to write, because I love all of you so much and I would never want to offend you. But I feel compelled to write these words, because of that love – I want to see you in heaven.

If you know me, you know I have always been respectful of those who hold different beliefs from me. I have been so blessed to have made friends from many different countries and the most joyful times of my life have been getting to know people from cultures very different from my own.

Anyone who knows me, also knows I am a Christian. I do not take my commitment to being a Christian casually. While I am not always successful, I do my best to live according to God’s instructions in the Bible. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” My hope and desire is that my daily actions reflect the love of Christ to those around me.

Some important things to know about Christianity:

A Christian believes that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. In other words, whatever it says has come from God and is true. What I read in the Bible, I can trust.

God loves EVERYONE. Really, it’s true! It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past – you can’t change the fact that God loves you and He wants to be in relationship with you – that is why He created you! If you are worried because you have done bad things, sadly we all have. That’s called sin and it separates us from God, because He is holy and without sin. But the good news is, no one is so far from God, that they can’t be forgiven and enter into His family. God’s love is unconditional. It’s important to know that God’s grace is offered to all, but He gives us a choice. The only requirement is for a person to choose to accept it by believing in His Son, that Jesus came to Earth, died for our sins (taking the penalty of sin in our place), and was raised from the dead, giving victory over death and a place in heaven for those who believe in Him. If you do, your life will never be the same! You will have entered into a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. Our God is a God of relationship. He wants to have conversations with you. He wants you to depend on Him. He is always available to you. In fact, His Holy Spirit provides both guidance and comfort to those who believe. The Holy Spirit also convicts us, helping us to live a life pleasing to God. Mind-boggling, I know. It’s hard to comprehend, but it’s true!

We read in the Bible in John 14:6, Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

So from a Christian perspective, one must have a personal relationship with Jesus in order to “come to the Father” and gain entrance into heaven. In order to do that, they must ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, and trust in Him for their salvation. Thus, my dilemma. I believe that in order to have salvation, one must accept the same things I believe, even if you come from a different country and/or was raised in another religion, or no religion at all. Even if you try to be a good person. No other religion meets this requirement and no one is good enough to get into heaven by their own efforts. Salvation is a free gift, but a person must choose to accept it and place their faith in Jesus. Knowing I believe this, if I am truly your friend and I love you like I say I do, I must be concerned about your eternal destiny. How can I not share this with you?

Putting myself in your shoes – my first reaction might be – how unfair! How exclusive! Why can’t all paths lead to heaven? Why does a Christian think they are better than everybody else?

My answer to the last question starts us on our journey: A true Christian KNOWS they are no better than anyone else. It is the same desperate need that we all have to be cleansed from our sin that makes us all equally in need of a Savior. Sin separates us from God. We can’t fix our situation – only Jesus can, by taking the penalty of our sin for us. Jesus offers to do that for each and every one of us. No other path provides the atonement required to satisfy God’s wrath because of our sin. No other path forms a bridge over the yawning chasm of our sin, so that we can enjoy God’s presence for eternity.

While the entrance to heaven is exclusively for those who call upon the Name of Jesus, Christianity is far from exclusive. God wants EVERYONE to be reconciled to Him. It doesn’t matter where you are from, your cultural background, what color you are, or what language you speak, ALL are welcome.

Does this seem unfair? I personally am grateful to Jesus that I am not treated fairly, because if I were, I would have to suffer for my sin. I am grateful that God so loved the world that He created a way for us to enter heaven by being unfair: He sent His only Son to die for us, in our place. In the Bible, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved THE WORLD, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” THE WORLD – all of us!

I can tell you about my own relationship with Jesus – how He has changed everything in my life for the better and walks alongside me, comforting and helping me through my greatest trials. How He is faithful even when I’m not, and He loves me despite all of my sin. I also know I am going to heaven with certainty, because I have placed my trust in Him.

When I expressed my concern to a dear friend of mine who is Muslim, regarding his eternal destiny, he responded: “Perhaps God will open my heart to Jesus. It is up to Him.” His words were so wise! That reminded me that I am not the one who can convince you about who Jesus is and the grace that He offers each one of us, that is up to the Holy Spirit to move in your heart. It is my prayer that He is moving, even now. I love you.

If you have read this, and I managed to offend you, I am truly sorry. But from my perspective, your eternal life is at stake. If I truly love you, I have to at least try to share this with you. If you are curious and have questions, I would be glad to answer them and if I don’t know, I will find out. Whatever you choose, ultimately the decision is yours and regardless, I will always be your friend. Thank you for allowing me to share my heart with you.

If you find yourself wanting to learn more – the video below is an amazing message because it teaches us about the incredible, extravagant, incomparable love God has for us, and it also explains the cross – something that puzzles many people. If you have ever wondered why the Son of God would allow Himself to be crucified on a cross – this is a great sermon to listen to. Spoiler Alert: It has everything to do with God’s love for us!

If you are short on time, the sermon begins at approximately 20 minutes. However, I think you’ll be especially blessed if you have the time to watch the entire service. God tells us in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” My prayer for you is that you find God and rest in His extravagant love for you. Amen

A Lenten Valentine’s Day (Revisited)

I wrote this blog post three years ago when Valentine’s Day fell precisely on Ash Wednesday. While that is not the case this year, Ash Wednesday is this week and I think this post is well-worth revisiting. While Phil and I are certainly celebrating the love we have for each other today, it is also appropriate to celebrate God’s love: the relentless, incomprehensible, sacrificial, and unconditional love He has for each one of us. For those of you unfamiliar with Lent, it is explained in the post. I hope these words bless you! Happy Valentine’s Day!

ashwedI woke up this morning thinking about how to reconcile celebrating Valentine’s Day with observing Ash Wednesday, when I realized that there isn’t any need for reconciliation; the two events complement each other beautifully. As we reflect solemnly on our sinful state and the admonition that Ash Wednesday brings to the forefront in Genesis 3:19, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” it is certainly a time of repentance. But it is also a time to draw us closer to experiencing God’s love through the Gospel.

heart2018So let me explain the correlation I think we have between these two seemingly dissimilar events. To begin with, it would be good to get a better understanding of the word love. In the English language we use one word to describe many things. We can love our brothers and sisters, we can have a more intimate love for our spouses, we can even love hamburgers, but none of these describes the love that God has for us. When we go back to the original Greek, we see that all of these types of love have a different word assigned to it. Family love or love of an object may fall under Storge στοργή. The brotherly love of friendship is expressed as Philia φιλία, and sexual love as Eros ἔρως. The love of God for man has its own word too. It is called Agape ἀγάπη. God’s love for us is relentless, incomprehensible, sacrificial and unconditional.

I read a quote about Agape love by Paulo Coelho that beautifully expresses the magnitude of God’s love for us: “This was the love that Jesus felt for humanity, and it was so great that it shook the stars and changed the course of man’s history.”

Godslove

When we think of Valentine’s Day, we think of love. The Scriptures tell us in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Ash Wednesday is a stark reminder as to why each of us needs that love. In Ash Wednesday we remember our mortality, that we are dust and will return to dust. We are reminded of our sin, but the Gospel message tells us we have victory over our sin if we repent and believe. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 gives us hope:

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 John 4:8 proclaims, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” The message is clear. We are to love one another. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 22:37-39 “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Today is a day we can celebrate love in all of its facets: the love that God has for us, and the different types of love that we have for one another. Today, Phil and I will contemplate the incredible love that God has for us as sinful mortals with gratefulness and repentance, and we will also celebrate the love we have as husband and wife. When you think about it, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that celebrates romantic love, but what could be more romantic than sacrificial love? Ultimately that is the type of love that lasts when the trappings of Valentine’s Day fades into the busyness of life.

JesusdesertAsh Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and we have the season of Lent ahead of us. Another Lenten tradition for some folks is to “give something up” for Lent. The purpose is to recognize and share in Jesus’ sacrifice as he withdrew into the desert and fasted for 40 days. Another way we can share in this tradition is rather than give something up, we can commit to do something, as an expression of sacrificial love. For me, I choose to write one card of encouragement each day of Lent (to the person God puts on my heart that day), and mail it. One has to be intentional, and carve out time to do this. Not a great sacrifice perhaps, but it serves the purpose of giving time to God to bless someone else. Just another way to show that ultimately, Ash Wednesday and Lent, while a season of repentance, is grounded in the greatest love of all and is a great way to live out the command Jesus gave us in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

handheartAnother GREAT thing to do today is to forgive someone if you have been allowing bitterness to fester in your heart. I know many people who struggle with forgiveness, in that they are either unable to forgive themselves for something they have done or they are unable to forgive someone else for hurting them. When I think about God’s limitless grace and that it is through Christ’s sacrifice at the cross that we have received forgiveness for all of our transgressions – what is even more amazing is that God initiated it, we read in Romans 5:8, “For God demonstrates his great love for us in this; while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” He died for us knowing we were a mess, yet loving us anyway. His forgiveness heals us and if we are unable to forgive ourselves, or others, we are unable to fully experience the peace that comes from the healing power of Christ. If you are in this category, you can read more at my blog post: Forgiving Ourselves and Forgiving Others.

There are all sorts of ways we can live out loving one another. A friend of mine is planning on choosing one item each day from her family’s clothing closets, so that at the end of Lent she will have 40 gently used items to donate to those in need. Sounds like both a sacrificial and practical plan to me! May you find special blessings each day as you spend this time preparing your heart for celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. And if you have never participated in Lent before, you might want to give it a try. It’s a wonderful way to deepen your spiritual journey.

Happy Lenten Valentine’s Day!

Give Yourself Permission to Cry

I have spent a lot of energy encouraging people to be positive. In fact, I created a Facebook group that I named “An Encouraging Word” to help people do just that. But as I posted today about thinking happy thoughts, I realized, it’s not always possible. We are in the midst of a pandemic. People around us are suffering. Our lives have indelibly changed, and so has the society we live in. People we love have contracted COVID-19 and have faced tremendous health challenges. Some have lost the battle. Children are being raised in bubbles, bereft of the benefits of both socialization and extracurricular activities that stimulate the mind and body. Essential workers risk themselves daily. The divisiveness in our country has plagued our news and social media for months. The list goes on and on. We may not even realize it, but in the depths of our psyche we are feeling an unbearable sadness for some or all of these things.

Crying is a powerful way to relieve stress. Allowing our tears to flow can be a cleansing act that leaves us reinvigorated to face the world. The trigger that turns on the faucet may seem completely random or even unidentifiable, but it is a response to the pain or stress we are feeling, even if it’s on a subconscious level and we can’t readily identify it. Watching a television show, reading a Facebook post, talking to a friend on the phone, have all been triggers for deep-seated emotions I wasn’t aware of, to surface unexpectedly. An emotional response has also happened when I was in the midst of a holiday celebration at work, suddenly filling my eyes with tears. The dam can threaten to burst at the most awkward times, but don’t let that stop you from recognizing your need to cry even if you feel compelled to delay your response until you get to a more private place.

I think my biggest takeaway when I reflect on all this is, that it is okay to have those moments when you sit down and just bawl. A real tear gushing, chest heaving, gasping for air, soak your shirt, cry session. God gave us tears for a purpose. It is a cleansing, like when rain refreshes the earth. But like rain, we don’t want it to turn into a destructive force and flood us, so we are unable to function. Release those pent-up emotions, then focus on healthy ways to cope with what brought them on. Find balance in your life – think happy thoughts and find ways to encourage yourself and others, but don’t deny yourself the opportunities to release the stress you are feeling, even if you don’t quite know why. A good cry can be a very good thing.